To begin with the basic murder charge in this situation seems to rise under California Penal Code 219:
Every person who unlawfully . . . places any obstruction on any railroad with the intention of derailing any passenger, freight or other train, car or engine and thus derails the same . . . is guilty of a felony and punishable with death or imprisonment in the state prison for life without possibility of parole in cases where any person suffers death as a proximate result thereof, or imprisonment in the state prison for life with the possibility of parole, in cases where no person suffers death as a proximate result thereof.Furthermore, California Penal Code 189 declares what type of murder it would be:
All murder . . . which is committed in the perpetration of, or attempt to perpetrate, . . . train wrecking . . . is murder of the first degree.And further specifies under California Penal Code 190.2:
(a) The penalty for a defendant who is found guilty of murder in the first degree is death or imprisonment in the state prison for life without the possibility of parole if one or more of the following special circumstances has been found under Section 190.4 to be true:These seem to be the statutes which would have to be applied. Nevertheless, assuming the news articles are correct these statutes don't seem to fit. After all, his intent was to commit suicide, not to derail the train. As well, in order to prove that he intended to derail the train you would need to show knowledge on the defendant's part that the train was being pushed rather than having the locomotive at the front of the train. Common perception is that the locomotive leads the train and trains with the locomotive at the front smash into (and destroy) things without derailing.
(17) The murder was committed while the defendant was engaged in, or was an accomplice in, the commission of, attempted commission of, or the immediate flight after committing, or attempting to commit, the following felonies:
(I) Train wrecking in violation of Section 219.
I think that the most likely result here is manslaughter. Depending on exactly how California's case law defines "driving" it may be involuntary or vehicular (both under California Penal Code 192:
Manslaughter is the unlawful killing of a human being without malice.Of course, I don't practice in California so I don't know how all this is effected by case law. Still, I don't see how this can lead to murder convictions.
. . . . .
(b) Involuntary--in the commission of an unlawful act, not amounting to felony. . . . This subdivision shall not apply to acts committed in the driving of a vehicle.
(1) Except as provided in Section 191.5, driving a vehicle in the commission of an unlawful act, not amounting to felony, and with gross negligence; or driving a vehicle in the commission of a lawful act which might produce death, in an unlawful manner, and with gross negligence.
(2) [D]riving a vehicle in the commission of an unlawful act, not amounting to felony, but without gross negligence; or driving a vehicle in the commission of a lawful act which might produce death, in an unlawful manner, but without gross negligence.
[addendum] CrimProf has also done some looking into this. The post concentrates on whether Ca. Penal Code 219 requires specific intent or merely knowledge of a probable outcome. While I would assert it requires a specific intent on its face ("with the intention of derailing"), I think that even the proof of knowledge of derailment is difficult to make (see the discussion supra about locomotive location).